Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing Tips: don’t overload your sentences

Writing is less about putting words on a page or screen than it is about putting thoughts in order.

Our job as writers, as professional communicators, is to clarify the world and ideas for our audience. That means illuminating—showing something that was hidden before—and simplifying—sorting out ideas, phenomena and events that are tangled and difficult to understand.

Consider these tangled ideas. By the way, I invented none of the examples I’m about to show you. They’re all taken from published documents or from former students. In either case, the writers should never have let anyone else see them.
  • We were informed of your government’s new initiative to link young people about to graduate from post-secondary education with small businesses who need skilled employment candidates by a teacher from Saskatchewan who is a member of our team of educators that is championing the inclusion of health literacy into high-school curricula.
How many ideas are crammed into that one sentence? Yes, it’s grammatically correct, but it has 5 dependent clauses, 9 prepositional phrases and 51 words. No, I’m not going to give an eighth-grade lesson in grammar or parsing sentences. I’m saying that’s too much for any audience. There are at least 14 different, if linked ideas in it.

In Grade 1, you learned (at least, you were taught; whether you learned it is a topic for another blog): a sentence is a single complete thought. While it makes sense to link thoughts together, when you get a chain long enough to wrap around your winter tires, it’s too long.

How about this one:

  • As he suggests, “the binary logic” of many sociological texts encourages an Eurocentric analysis that conceptually constructs an ahistorical, apolitical social science which avoids an analysis of the political and economic exploitation that is associated with racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination.
That one starts with “binary logic,” goes through sociology, history, politics and social science, some other ideas and ends up with discrimination. It’s like wandering in a college campus and wondering how you got to the garbage room when you started in the computer lab and were hoping to get to the caf.

I call these “overloaded sentences”—they just cannot support that much information. By the time the readers get to the end of a sentence like that, they’ve forgotten the beginning.

Here’s one from fiction:
  • Had he known that Ralph had managed to break into the apartment and wire it quickly before he had followed the three of them to the video store, Andy might have given a small bit of thought to the intelligence of listing a good many words that clearly indicated his belief that his pursuers were idiots, but he didn’t, much to the displeasure of his unseen audience. 

Organizational problem
Sentence overload is caused when you have so much to say and you try to get it all out at once. The solution: get a GRIP on your sentences as well as your whole document:
  • Goal: what are you trying to accomplish with these thoughts? What do you want your readers to do after reading? 
  • Reader: whom are you saying it to? What do they already know, what do you want them to know?
  • Idea: of all the ideas in that long, convoluted sentence, which is the most important?
  • Plan: what other information does the audience need to understand your main point? How is this other information related to the main point?

Now, organize it. Put the most important idea first. If two ideas are equally important, make each one the main part of a separate sentence. Then use less important ideas as dependent clauses or qualifying phrases.

You don’t always have to repeat qualifying information:
  • Notably, policymakers in India have made financial inclusion a priority, according to speaker LD Patel, Deputy director of the XXX of India, where all Indian institutions have been requested by the central regulatory department of India to formulate board approved educational inclusion plans for the next three years.

    The Indian government has asked all Indian institutions to develop plans to bring education to the poorest communities within three years, said LD Patel, Deputy Director of the XXX.
Sometimes, it seems as if the writer changed his or her mind halfway through the sentence:

  • It highlights the growing importance and recognition of healthy nutrition continues to gain in Canada and internationally with the availability of more resources, information and good practices to help develop strategic priorities, research, evaluation and programs.

    The importance of healthy nutrition is gaining recognition internationally. There are more resources, information and good practices available to help develop strategic priorities, research, evaluation and programs.
  • Based on last year’s results, and since the target audience is very well-defined and the product was developed for, and extensively tested with that audience, we expect the following results in 2010/11:

    The product was developed for a specific audience and tested with it. Based on those results, we can expect the following in 2010-2011:

From fiction:

  • Tristan blinked, his head moving up, not realizing he was so tired, normally he was more than energized and almost always ready to go.

    This actually combines several problems common in fiction from new writers: more detail than the reader needs or wants, and telling instead of showing. I would amend it to:

    Tristan’s head nodded involuntarily. “What’s up, Tristan?” Annabella asked. “You’re usually ready to go.”


Here are a couple that I received from students. My challenge to you is to turn these into readable prose. Leave your responses in the Comments box, below.

Have fun!

1: Management is pleased to be receiving a positive response from employees about the relocation of headquarters from Toronto to Calgary, although there are some concerns about the merger due to the cultural differences between the Calgary employees versus those from Toronto, so in response to growing concerns, management is taking action in order to ensure co-operation and compatibility between teams.

2. I recently completed a kitchen remodel and on July 2 I ordered by telephone double-glazed, oak French doors from Quality Doors, Inc, that were required for this job, which when they arrived on July 25, my carpenter told me were cut too small, measuring total of 2.31 square metres wide instead of 2.33 square metres wide, so my carpenter offered rebuild the opening but charging me for his time $455.50 because I waited three weeks for these doors, and my clients wanted them installed immediately.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I've been nominated for Kreativ Blogger Awards!

I feel very pumped today, and I have received two nominations for Kreative Blogger awards, and at least one for the Versatile Blogger.

The first came from RS Guthrie, my very good Twitter and blogger friend and, more importantly, an excellent writer (his first two novels are Black Beast and Lost). Then, I noticed I had been nominated by several others, as well: Alan McDermott, author of Gray Justice. Finally, I just found that Wendy S. Russo nominated me for a Versatile Blogger.

First, thanks very much for these. Coming from such talented writer excellent books on the market and an top-notch blogs, it means a lot.

The way that the Kreativ Blogger Award works (apparently; I can’t claim to know much about it beyond what Rob wrote), I have to tell you 10 things you don’t know about me (and as Rob says, I have to make them interesting), and then nominate six other blogs for the award.

So, here goes:

10 interesting things you didn’t know about me

  1. I have launched a stealth campaign to minimize capital letters in sub-headings.
  2. I used to teach English in colleges in Ontario.
  3. I have never been to eastern Europe, other than through Google Earth.
  4. Even though I was born in Winnipeg, I did not learn to skate until adulthood.
  5. I dented an elevator in Athens. That hurt.
  6. My last name has changed twice in my life, but “Bury” is the one that I’m sticking with, and it’s my real, legal name. You can find me, if you try.
  7. On the rare occasions when I do cook, I don’t like having anyone help me.
  8. I am purposely trying to write books that are different from anything else every published, but you have to dig deep to see where the difference is.
  9. I can fix things around the house, but it takes a long, long time, and I often break something else in the process. So it’s kind of a self-extending project.
  10. I haven’t been able to find time for working out for months. Yes, Nike, get off my back. I’ll do the same too, eventually—once I get up the nerve to step on the scale again.

Six blogs that I nominate:

  1. Rob on Writing—as I said, a great source of ideas, inspiration and straightforward insight into the difficult path ahead of the author today. Rob on Writing also has links to other blogs and sources that can be invaluable to readers and writers. A nomination for such an award from a writer of such calibre (yes, that’s the correct—Canadian means correct—spelling) means a lot. If you are not following Rob on Writing, you’re missing an excellent resource for information, ideas , insight and inspiration for writers and readers. Follow and subscribe to it.
  2. Write Hook—Scott Morgan, my long-lost brother from another mother (and father), is the author who coined the phrase “write for the jugular.” Scott is an excellent writer, although to date he has only published two books: Short Stack, a collection of short stories and poems; and Character Development from the Inside Out, which is a guide book for writers. Scott’s writing style is as clear and as smooth as 12-year-old single-malt scots whisky.
  3. Jambalian, by Alan McDermott, author of Gray Justice—funny, insightful, always cheers me. I can identify with Alan. I just wish I were as smart as he is, and had started seriously trying to publish fiction when I was his age.
  4. Stephen Legault’s blog on writing—a great perspective from a writer who has been published by an actual publishing company, and writes successful books about a piece of history and geography that seems very remote, yet fascinating.
  5. Van Brown’s Journal—Van contacted me through LinkedIn a few months ago because he liked my blog. I was so flattered, particularly because Van is a very talented, funny and self-effacing writer with laser-sharp insights, great experience and endlessly entertaining and valuable stories.
  6. The Novel Project, by Roger Eschbacher—this professional TV writer has launched his own fiction career, and describes his ups, downs and successes in detail. Essential for any writer.
  7. Steve Vorley, fiction writer—yes, I know that seven is more than six. Sue me. Steve’s blog is a really creative use of the blog format. He has regular interviews with writers, and it’s worth reading.

Some others that I heartily recommend:
  • Will Granger’s Anabar blog—a writer who deserves wider recognition
  • Rachel Harrie’s blog, Rach Writes—lots of links, resources and competitions for new writers
  • Rebecca Scarberry’s Scarberryfieldsforever—this dauntless contributor to the Kindle Books Review blog has launched her own blog recently. So far, she just has a short story, but I’m looking forward to more.
  • KD Rush—a self-named website that is so chock-full of stuff, I don’t know where to begin describing it. But check it out.
  • Jo VonBargen’s Two-Bit Bard—this is actually several blogs rolled into one: two separate poetry blogs plus a blog where Jo tells us about her life. I cannot believe the strength she shows in that one. And the poetry blog actually re-awakened my appreciation for poetry in general.
  • John Hansen’s Incessant Droning of a Bored Author—he interviews authors and reviews books. I just wish (very much) he’d rename the blog.
  • Wendy Russo’s blog—Wendy documents her progress on her novel and her life. Looking for links that can help you as a writer? Check her out.
There are so many more. The writing community is truly a supportive one, and I’m very proud to be included in the words, tweets, posts and thoughts of the many people out there who have read my words, contributed comments, retweeted and reviewed.

So, please, all of you, check out all the blogs above. If you think any deserve it (and many do), check them out, leave comments, tweet about them, list them on Facebook, whatever it takes. Let’s get the word out!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A writing plan: guest post by Stephen Legault

This week's guest blogger is Stephen Legault, an author published by Touchwood Editions and NeWest. He contacted me via Twitter about self-editing, and agreed to tell us about the best and the worst he does (as a writer). In return, I've contributed a post to his blog on StephenLegault.com, where I tried to write about the writer's place in the political world.

Please let Stephen and me know what you think about either issue through the Comments.

The best and the worst of Stephen Legault

My thanks to Scott for hosting this guest blog. It’s a new experience for me to swap blog posts; I hope readers enjoy.

I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, having started with angst-ridden teenaged poetry penned under a street lamp, and proceeded to angst-ridden personal columns for my local newspapers. Five years ago, most of the angst out of my system, I started publishing books on activism and eastern philosophy along with three separate crime series with an environmental or historical theme.

The best thing I’ve done when it comes to writing—besides developing the discipline to rise very early each morning and pound out a few thousand words before the rest of the world wakes—was to develop a plan for where I wanted my writing to take me.

For a number of years, I was a consultant helping businesses and non-profit organizations develop communications and strategic plans, so the notion of business planning was familiar to me. If you have a plan for where you want to go, it’s easier to get there. If a business trying to sell organic coffee, or a non-profit trying to end homelessness would benefit from a plan to achieve success, why not a writer?

A writing plan needn’t be elaborate: for me it takes the form of a couple of charts. What books to I hope to write, and by when? Which do I have publishers lined up for? What do I need to do in order to find a publisher for those I’m not already under contract for?

Most importantly, how many books do I need to sell in order to make writing my day job? I love getting up at 5 am to write before the kids are up and my full-time work begins, but some time, I’d like to clear the mental clutter and dedicate myself full-time to scribbling. To do that, I figure I have to sell around 25–30,000 books a year. What do I need to do to reach that number? What does my backlist look like, and how many titles do I need to my name to reach that goal?

I plotted this all out in Word, and ran the numbers in Excel, and then went for a stiff drink.

But knowing what my goal is, and what I have to do to reach it, keeps me focused.

The worst thing I’ve ever done as a writer is to not learn from my own mistakes. Over 20-plus years as a writer, I’ve made plenty. The one I keep making may seem common-place, but it’s a serious threat to achieving my game plan. I suck at self-editing. In fact, my story editor sent me one of Scott’s blog posts as a not-so-subtle hint to get on top of the editorial process, and that’s how we came to be swapping stories.

I get so caught up in the story, the plot, the dialog, that I miss important grammatical mistakes. I make them again and again. I also use crutch phrases and clichés too often. Finally, I tend to add unnecessary description, such as the 156 times one of my character’s “nodded” in a recent manuscript. I went through and cut 152 of those in the seventh draft. After a while, the reader just gets dizzy.

To achieve my goal of writing for a living, I have to write the very best books I can. To do that, I have to be mindful of the mistakes I make over and over again, and keep my eye on my goals.

Stephen Legault is the author of four books, with two more set for publication in the next nine months. His novel The End of the Line is a historical mystery set in the Rocky Mountains in 1884 during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway; Don Graves of the Hamilton Spectator called it “a whopping good tale…a riveting and winning mystery.”

Visit Stephen at http://www.stephenlegault.com/ or follow him on twitter @stephenlegault.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

LOST: An independent novel review

With his second novel, RS Guthrie has hit his stride.
RS Guthrie, author of Black Beast and Lost

Lost is the sequel to the excellent Black Beast, and features the same protagonist, Denver detective “Bobby Mac” Macaulay. This story pursues the same themes: an unending struggle against ancient evil, fought by a man destined to be virtue’s champion.

This second installment in the Clan of MacAulay series is leaner than the first, with a tighter writing style. It’s an enjoyable, fast and easy read, but it’s shorter than the first book. This is a smart move—Guthrie leaves you wanting more.

I have to admit, I was completely engrossed in this story. I read this e-book on my iPad in record time, and I was feeling stressed as I neared the end. I had to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next, but I was dreading the end because there would be no more to read! At least for a few months, until Guthrie brings out the third and last installment in this particular story (but, he promises, not the last appearance of Bobby Mac).

Lost picks up some months after the action in Black Beast, and explores more of the family situation of hero, Bobby Mac. This time, Guthrie delves into the relationship between Bobby and his brother, Jackson, who is a police chief in a small town in northern Idaho. Jackson calls Bobby for his help in solving a multiple murder that’s coupled with the disappearance of a child.

The part of Black Beast that I felt was strongest was the emotional conflict the character feels over his personal relationships with his partners, lovers and son. Now, Guthrie looks at the troubled, contradictory and completely believable relationship between these two brothers. The only criticism is that I would have loved to have read more about that relationship, maybe through a flashback or something.

Bobby and Jackson Macaulay are drawn from real life and show the weaknesses and strengths that any reader will recognize. Jackson, in fact, reminded me so much of one of my father’s friends, I could almost hear his voice.

I would have liked to read a few more pages about the love interest, Amanda. She is a well-drawn character, a believable career woman with complex emotions and a complicated life. But then, Guthrie almost ruthlessly adhered to the rule of moving the story forward.

The only character that seems a little flat is Father Meyer, Bobby Mac’s cousin. He seems more of a foil than anything else, the character who finds clues for the hero and then gets flattened by a falling anvil or piano.

Guthrie clearly knows how to write. He follows the “show, don’t tell” rule, letting characters’ actions show their thoughts and motivations. He tells us only as much back story as readers need to understand what’s going on. This is a critical mistake that many new writers make—dropping long expositions about what a minor character did to explain what’s going on. Like “Office Kevin, having skipped breakfast that morning, scarfed down the last two doughnuts. It was okay, though, because he worked out regularly, as evidenced by his flat belly.” Or worse, “Jane listened sympathetically. She had been dumped by boyfriends twice in the past year.”

However, Guthrie does make full use of his descriptive chops where he can take advantage of the setting, and describes the mountain scenes, for instance, where it makes sense in the story.

He has the talent to cross some genre boundaries, skilfully blending an investigative cop story and an occult horror novel. That’s not easy to write without being completely cheesy, but there’s not a hint of dairy product anywhere. If you can accept the existence of a personification of evil, then the whole story is not just plausible, it’s hair-raisingly realistic.

With Lost, as with Black Beast, Rob Guthrie explodes the myth that commercial publishers have a lock on quality writing. I can only look forward to more from this author.

Without reservation, 5 stars.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Six sentence Sunday for January 22, 2012

I may be posting this a little too late for the good people who run Six Sentence Sunday, but I do tend to sleep in a little on Sundays. 

I just hope that the people who check the entries don't get down to #167 in the list before I get this out. At any rate, here are six more sentences from The Bones of the Earth. This excerpt is from a later point in the story, about three-quarters of the way through. The setting is an armoury in Constantinople, which is under attack by ...

The dragon opened its mouth, revealing terrible, long, pointy white teeth. It spat a green liquid toward Philip that hissed and steamed where it hit the stone floor. Some of the spit hit Philip’s forearm, and he fell screaming to his knees. His skin bubbled, smoked, cracked and blackened, then began to melt and drip off. The bubbling spread, down toward his fingers, which shriveled, dissolved and fell off. The bubbling spread upwards toward his elbow, dissolving more and more of the arm.

Of course, there is a longer excerpt from the first chapter at the tab on top of the page. And if you like it, you can buy it from Amazon (.mobi format for your Kindle) or from Smashwords (all formats available).

Enjoy! Leave a comment if you like. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Will Apple’s Author and iBooks2 challenge Kindle Select?

Screen capture credit: Apple Inc.
You gotta feel for Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords: Apple has just released a new iBooks2 app for the iPad2 and a free iBook Author application, which make it Apple-easy to publish e-books on the revamped iBookstore.

In its inimitable way (although many try to imitate it), Apple made a big splash at the Guggenheim Museum in New York today (I’m reading news reports ) with an announcement of epub-version textbooks. Although for now they’re only available in the US, they’re priced at $14.99, and the books are from the three major textbook publishers: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin.

Major news outlets seem to be agreeing with Apple’s prediction that this will be a major benefit for students. Some news sources predict that college and universities will be quicker to use e-textbooks than high schools because of the relatively high cost of iPads. However, high-school textbooks can cost $80 or more — Pearson’s core Biology textbook is $80.97 US. A single iPad can hold all the textbooks for a student. With a $499 iPad plus $120 (max) for eight e-textbooks, that’s a savings of $20 per student. Multiply that be the number of students in the US alone …

A long-awaited shakeup

Once again, Apple has upset the traditional publishing industry to the immense benefit of the information-consuming world. Apple is also offering a huge help to the education system. And at the same time, Apple will shake up the publishing industry. It’s been shaken up a lot over the past several years, but its response hasn’t helped it. Instead of embracing the tectonic changes, publishing has tried to cope by building greater barriers. It’s like loading boulders onto the Titanic AFTER it hits the iceberg.

Apple is also offering publishing a solution, or at least a way to move forward. Along with the update to the iBookstore and iBooks, Apple is also releasing the new iBook Author app — a free application that allows anyone to create e-books in the .epub format. It even supports colour images and even video.

Finally, Apple is now allowing any authors to publish books on the iBookstore for free (Apple takes a 30 percent royalty, like Amazon). There is no up-front fee. Those with existing iTunes Connect accounts will have to set up a new account, the company says.

It upsets the new publishing industry, too

This is going to be a big challenge to Amazon’s dominance of the electronic book market—some say Amazon sells 90 percent of the e-books in the world. Apple’s ability to create media buzz could bring more readers to its iBookstore, which until now has not had a huge impact in the e-book market.

The iBook Author app and publishing facility could also be a big challenge, especially if there is a way to borrow books as with Amazon’s Kindle Select program. It could put a real dent in its appeal to small publishers and independent authors, too, who have to make their books exclusive to Amazon to participate in the program.

As for Smashwords and its founder, Mark Coker? He must be fuming. First, Amazon’s Kindle Select program takes away content from authors who, understandably, opt for the retailer with the 90 percent market share. Now, if iBook Author and the uploading process are as intuitive, smooth and visually attractive as every other Apple product, they’ll make his Smashwords system obsolete for the Macintosh users among those authors who are left. It’s a shame, really, because Smashwords provided that entry point to the e-book world for so many.

If you’re an author, I’d love to get some comments from you about this.

Monday, January 16, 2012

You have nothing to fear but ... yourself

This week's guest post is from Scott Morgan, owner of the Write Hook: Writing for the jugular blog and author of Character Development From the Inside Out and Short StackAs you will see, Scott writes directly.

As with all my guest bloggers, Scott is also publishing my words on his blog. Check it out, too. And remember, while the words below are his, you should still leave the comments on MY blog.

Let us both know what you think!

What's holding you back?

I don't give advice. Smart people don't need it and stupid people don't take it.

But I'll diverge from my normal path to offer one piece of advice to anyone out there wishing he (or she) could be a better writer: Listen to yourself.

Profound, huh?

Well, smartass, it is. You see, whether you want to believe it, you know what's best for you. If there's something holding you back, it's fear of upending one or more aspects of your life–which, often enough, is a life that's not making you as happy as you want it to in the first place.

So when it comes to writing, what is it that's holding you up? Afraid people aren't going to like what you wrote? 'Cause I got news. They won't. Not all of them anyway. But do you really care about that? I mean, if you're a shortstop, do you really care who won the Super Bowl?

Or are you afraid of offending someone? 'Cause I got news for you. You will. Somewhere, some prick will always be offended by something you say, no matter what you say. Your fear, probably, is that you don't want to be confronted with it.

I sympathize. I don't really care what kind of crappola people think, but I never want to listen to it. So I dig.

But here's the thing – without risking the occasional brush with crappola, you never get to the sweet, soft center of where you want to be. Because as much as some people will hate every word you say, more people than you expect will like you. They will support you and believe in you and champion your cause. But it takes a willingness to slough away the rust that's holding you up and a willingness to embrace a certain amount of distaste for the chance at finding out who you really are as a writer.

An online friend of mine (author Carey Parrish) reviewed my short fiction e-book Short Stack on Amazon. Somewhere in an entirely positive review, Carey said this: A talent like his is too much to keep secret and fortunately he isn't inclined to try.

I was floored. And I had to laugh, because until I got the hell over myself, I was completely and religiously disinclined to try. The first 99/100ths of my creative life have been swallowed by my belief that my creativity is mine and mine alone. That you weren't good enough to hear it. And that just because I wrote, it didn't mean you had to read it.

But what that belief really translated to was that I had no balls. I hid because I was afraid someone would tell me I sucked.

When I decided to stop wishing I was dead and start wishing I hadn't spent my life attempting new and exciting methods of self-destruction, I found an interesting thing had happened–I wasn't afraid anymore. I decided that the world did need to hear what I had to say, because somewhere one this pale, blue dot would be someone (even if only one) who would say "that's what I wanted."

When I got the hell over myself, I sat down and wrote Character Development from the Inside Out with one hand while fighting off the dread that I had nothing important to say with the other. And when I asked a publisher to read it, an amazing, unexpected thing happened: she said yes. And when she published it, I got speaking gigs.

And I got readers. Enough to put the book on one of Amazon's bestseller lists.

Do you know how many books I started before I got the hell over myself? Tell me, please, because I've lost count. I finished two of them, but neither saw the light of day because they weren't me. They were me trying to be something I'm not.

So. Do yourself a favor: listen to yourself. You're the only one who knows what you really want, and if you take yourself out of the running to get it, no one is going to put you back in the race. Go out there and get it. Keep failing and keep trying. Keep risking and keep writing. You'll be surprised where the current takes you if you bring your own oars.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Two independent book reviews

This installment of Written Words has reviews of two very different types of books.
First is Secrets by SL Pierce: a taut, fast-paced thriller. Pierce is a professional writer. Her skill and knowledge of putting together a good read is evident in all her books. She doesn't waste words and knows how to make a reader turn a page.

The second, just to be completely different, is a middle-grade Arthurian fantasy that gently satirizes the genre while delivering an esteem boost for young readers. Dragonfriend: Leonard the Great, Book 1 is by another professional writer, Roger Eschbacher, who has a long list of writing credits and has begun publishing his fantasy novels independently. His knowledge of the field is evident in the quality of the book's production and marketing, but is really proved in his prose.

Secrets: a fast-paced, fun thriller

Secrets is a good, action-packed pot-boiler/thriller/mystery. With it, SL Pierce joins the growing ranks of independent authors who have met and exceeding the quality and professionalism of the protégés of the legacy publishing industry. Authors like Pierce, Rogers Eschbacher, James Wallace Birch, Richard Sanders, Paul Dorset, Elise Stokes, Mike Wells, Russell Blake, Alan McDermott and RS Guthrie, among many, many others, are proving that the commercial publishers, big or small, can no longer look down their noses as independent writers and scoff at their lack of quality, attention to detail or ability to craft taut stories that keep audiences reading.
Secrets has a solid plot with no holes. There is one big coincidence, which is the maximum that any novel can sustain. And the fact that the coincidence is what launches the story, it makes perfect sense.

The style is lean, active and compelling. The characters are mostly believable, and with the exception of the main character, I can identify with most of them, at least a little.
A brief synopsis: Gwen Michaels is a former US government assassin who leaves the death business for a quiet life with her husband, a lovable nebbish without a clue (aren’t we all?). The story begins with an attempt on her life that is not related to her former trade. Gwen then uses all her talents and training to solve the mystery: who’s after her, and why?

The book starts with action, and keeps up the pace to the end. It’s a fun read. The only problem is that this the lead character is too strong for my liking. She’s not infallible, but she’s hard to identify with. And she’s quite cold in some respects—I won’t write more about that aspect so as not to spoil the ending.

The ending is satisfying, in a chilling way. There are no loose ends, but there is an open door for a sequel, and from Pierce’s website, it appears there is at least one, with more to come.
If you’re looking for an action-packed read, Pierce delivers. You can get it from any retailer through Pierce's blog.

Leonard the Great, Book One: Dragonfriend, has everything a middle-grade Arthurian fantasy needs: magic, romance, action, sword-fighting, a princess, monsters, lots of dragons and, the most important item of all, a regular kid who makes good.

Leonard is a simple page, serving the worst knight in the kingdom, Sir Ronald the Mediocre. When Leonard finds a depressed dragon, he devises a brilliant plan that will make his master famous for his bravery and skill in battle. Like all brilliant plans hatched by teenage boys, it goes spectacularly awry. From that point, the pace never lets up as Leonard finds he not only has to rescue the hapless Sir Ronald, he must pass through a dangerous enchanted forest to the home of the dragons to execute another brilliant plan that will save Camelot. Or destroy it.

Dragonfriend plays with all the conventions of the Arthurian fantasy, and Eschbacher does it skillfully and with a lot of humour. I found myself smiling and laughing, when I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. The characters were vividly drawn and rang absolutely true. We’ve all met these people in our own lives.

It’s a quick, easy and enjoyable ride, and I’m looking forward to the next installment in the Leonard the Great saga. You can buy it in whatever format you like, from whatever retailer you like, through Eschbacher's website. 5*

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Siggy Buckley, author of Next Time Lucky: Lessons of a Matchmaker and Intrepid Home Swapping—Insider Secrets for Successful Home Swapping, is my latest victim—I mean, guest blogger. She is a former "dating guru" or matchmaker who continues to give advice on dating, relationships and finding that special someone in her blog, "Next Time Lucky."

While Siggy doesn't normally write about writing itself, she agreed to share some thoughts on the important role of written communication in her world.

Online Etiquette and the Written Word

The written word, proper grammar and language usage are the tools of a writer. We bloggers and writers constantly work on perfecting our language skills to achieve maximum effect in our writing-whatever the genre. A field where these skills are essential as well may not have occurred to you if you haven’t dabbled in online dating.

My novel Next Time Lucky is about dating, in particular on the Internet. Everybody who has tried their hand there will have noticed that a well-crafted profile is the starting block for your launch to find a partner. There is a plethora of self-help manuals when it to comes to dating. “Dating for Dummies” is a title that appeals to me for its comic effect. I wonder how well it sells.

My working blog, as I call it, gives up-to-date advice and deals with trends in the dating business, although I’m no longer a professional. (I used to be matchmaker in Ireland). One piece of advice I read recently was to the effect that, ladies, you have the right to remain silent when approached by some unsavory specimen of the dating race. I chose to do so many a time over answering to some Tom, Dick or Harry who had just spotted my pic or profile, started drooling over what he saw and didn't even bother to read my most basic requirements, which were clearly open for everybody to see. If you're a smoker, why approach someone who clearly wants a smoke-free zone? What business does an alcoholic anonymous member have in chatting up an out-on-the-town-every-night party girl, other than for a laugh maybe? You would think he can’t read.

To convey these simple common-sense ideas to someone who is already smitten by your profile - or probably rather your picture — is not always as easy as you might think. I’d like to give you an example where I chose honesty and precision in my chosen words that proved to be too graphic for the recipient in this context.


Cherie "The men I was chasing were elusive.  On the other hand, I was approached by some, but I had no interest in them.  One short-ass by the name of Ken annoyed me over the course of several evenings, contacting me again and again after I told him I was not interested.  After all, I was free to pick and choose.  I don’t remember the exact words I wrote, but it was something to the effect of I liked a man to be taller and somewhat more handsome.  Oh boy, did I poke a hornet’s nest!”

(That’s where style comes into the equation, you writers may advise.)

Ken’s answer: "I suppose with your looks, requests to you border on the annoying.  It is bad enough for one’s ego to have to send 10 messages off to get one reply, but when the reply is such as yours, you might as well have kicked me when I was down.  I’m sure with a mind and a tongue as caustic as yours you will get the man you deserve, but it won’t be me.  Ken.”

Cherie's response: "What a jerk! I had no intention of hurting his feelings.  But he had not got the message the first time round.  How explicit does one have to be? There you are, Cherie, you and your caustic tongue.  I know diplomacy is not my forte, but neither is arse-licking ...

"Now Ken-the-Persistent had confirmed I was not cut out for diplomacy.  So be it.  But next time, I would just say 'stop' emphatically as many times as needed and squelch any explanations that might provoke my more resistant wannabees.  So, Cherie, in some situations on the net, like in real life, it’s better not to know why you were dumped despite feeling other times that 'If I only knew why…' it would somehow ease the blow.”

What advice would a dating guru give under the circumstances? What advice would come from a writer? You tell me!

Thanks, Siggy! 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Resolutions for 2012

It’s the beginning of the year. I know, I should have posted this yesterday, on the actual first of the year, but I prefer to spend January 1 doing as little as possible. What do you like to do?

Anyway, here are my writer’s resolutions for the coming year.
  • finish those two novels that have been sitting in the drawer for years: The Last Tiger and Maurice: Walking out of the USSR
  • stop using “then” as a conjunction so often. I can get away with it once in a while, but not on every page.
  • Stop using “then” so much everywhere else. “First he did this, then he did that.” Yeesh!
  • resist the temptation to describe every little motion my characters make—for example, “she hesitated and glanced down, touched her face and shuddered just a little as her face reddened.” I think my readers will get it if I just writer “she hesitated as her cheeks became red.”
  • write more book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords
  • finish the process to list my books directly on Apple’s iBookstore.
I think that’s enough for one year.

What are your writer’s resolutions?